INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Feb. 10, 2016) – A pair of Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks, one with a bronze bust in Canton, Ohio, are quick to point accusing fingers at the person(s) responsible for Andrew Luck’s injury-marred 2015 season.
And it’s not in the direction of Andrew Luck, the undeniable centerpiece of the Indianapolis Colts.
Steve Young and Trent Dilfer are pointing at you, general manager Ryan Grigson.
And at you, owner Jim Irsay.
Luck’s fourth season as the Colts’ catalyst paled in comparison to the first three. His 74.9 passer rating ranked No. 32 among 35 qualifying quarterbacks. His 12 interceptions were tied for No. 22, and he missed nine games.
Luck was 2-5 as a starter while dealing with rib, right shoulder and kidney injuries.
When Young and Dilfer considered Luck’s most recent work, they saw a quarterback who was forced to do too much with too little help. Each assailed Colts management for failing to provide Luck with anything approaching a legitimate offensive line.
“I see a quarterback who needs help,’’ said Young, who gained entry into the Pro Football Hall of Fame with the Class of 2005 after winning two MVP awards and leading the San Francisco 49ers to a Super Bowl championship. “Andrew Luck can carry as much water as (necessary) as he proved in his rookie year and he proved in his second year, third year. He carried as much water as any young quarterback that I’ve ever seen. Ever.
“But that doesn’t mean he can do it alone. You cannot have a guy just take a pounding like he has. The thing about Andrew is he will never say ‘Uncle.’ You could put one lineman out there and he’d be like, ‘Oh, we’ll be fine. Just snap me the ball.’ That’s who Andrew is.’’
That must change, insisted Young.
“I would tell Andrew to demand more,’’ he said. “I would tell Andrew to go in and say, ‘Look, I need more. Protect me. I don’t have to have the aces out there, but if you can’t protect me, I can’t help you.’’’
Dilfer, who led the Baltimore Ravens to a win in Super Bowl XXXV, was more direct. He laid the blame at Grigson’s feet.
While watching Luck’s ’15 struggles, Dilfer said he saw “a battered guy that had no help, that was trying to fight his tail off and taking one on the chin for a general manager who hasn’t helped him at all.
“It pisses me off that Andrew hasn’t been more pissed off, to be quite honest with you. The Steve Youngs of the past, the Troy Aikmans, Dan Marinos, John Elways, the transcendent-type players, have a voice. Use it.
“Andrew needs to say, ‘Hey, we need to fix some stuff. Fix it.’’’
Luck was that “transcendent-type’’ player after the Colts selected him with the first overall pick in the 2012 draft. His 12,957 passing yards were the most by a quarterback in his first three seasons. His 86 touchdowns were a franchise record and second to Marino.
The Colts followed Luck’s lead and reached three consecutive postseasons with 11-5 records. They reached the AFC Championship game in 2014.
But it has taken a heavy toll, and the overall sack total is just the tip of the iceberg.
Consider in 55 career regular-season games, Luck has been sacked 115 times. Fifteen QBs have endured more from 2012-15, led by Miami’s Ryan Tannehill (184), Seattle’s Russell Wilson (164) and San Diego’s Philip Rivers (155).
However, compounding the beating Luck has taken have been the hits he’s absorbed in the pocket. In ’15, he was sacked 15 times. But according to NFL game stat books, he was hit 57 times. In seven games.
According to NFL.com, since 2012 the Colts have allowed their quarterbacks – primarily Luck – to be hit 450 times while passing. Jacksonville (410) and Cleveland (405) are next. It’s worth noting the Jaguars and Browns are a combined 33-95 over the past four seasons.
It’s a misperception the Colts haven’t addressed Luck’s offensive line. They have, but too often have failed (Todd Herremans, Gosder Cherilus, Donald Thomas, Samson Satele, Mike McGlynn).
Of the 12 draft picks and proven veteran free agents signed since ’12, the only legitimate holdover is guard Jack Mewhort. The jury remains out on guard Hugh Thornton. It’s too soon to draw a conclusion on tackle Denzelle Good, a seventh-round pick in ’15. Time is running out for center Khaled Holmes. Center Jon Harrison, an undrafted free agent in ’14, might be a keeper.
There’s every reason to believe Grigson and his personnel staff will use one of the team’s top picks on an offensive lineman in the upcoming draft.
From Young’s viewpoint, the Colts’ inability to give Luck a viable offensive line is gambling with their most valuable resource.
“The onus is on the Colts to protect Andrew Luck. Same with Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers,’’ he said. “If you don’t protect these gems, these once-in-a-generation guys, you are nuts. It’s crazy.
“People want to say Andrew regressed (in 2015). Trust me, Andrew is the hardest working man alive. If he regressed at all, it’s because he was hurt. The guy will not regress unless you continue to not give him enough help.
“I don’t want to see these phenomenal careers cut short or not get where they should be because you didn’t give the guy the help that he needs. These guys are all-time players.’’
Luck must be more assertive, Young said. It’s imperative he injects himself into the decision-making process.
“I didn’t learn that until later,’’ Young said. “It took me a while and I wish I had done it earlier. I wish I would have done it in 1993 or ’94. I wish I would have said, ‘Hey, this is what has to happen. This is what I need. We might want to draft an offensive lineman.’
“Andrew doesn’t think that way, but he needs to think that way. He needs to go in and partner with the owner and say, ‘This is what I have to have.’’’